USAG YONGSAN -- TogetHER, a mentorship group that invites all Soldiers and civilians to meet others and discuss issues viewed through the female perspective, welcomed Lt. Gen. Nadja Y. West, Sept. 21, to South Post Chapel. West is the 44th U.S. Army Surgeon General and the first African-American female Army Surgeon General. More than 500 people, including USFK/CFC/UNC Commander Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, gathered to listen to her speak on leadership.
As one of the most influential women in the Army, she talked about her how she got to where she is today. The answer is both simple and complex, she said. "Show up, do as you are told."
She also shared her own story on how she came to serve her country.
"I was orphaned and had an uncertain future. That's how I began. I was adopted by a very humble family, who showed me by example that anything is possible, no matter where you start, and no matter where you are from," recalled West.
West's father retired as a first sergeant after 33 years of dedicated service. When he joined the Army, the Army was segregated, but he never expressed any bitterness. He loved the Army, she said. West was inspired by her father's belief that all should have the opportunity to serve their country in the military and work for a common purpose and toward the betterment of the nation.
West looks up to her mother for being so hard-working. Her home was patriotic, and most of her siblings also served in the military.
"So, my story begins with these amazing two people with fate, resilience, strength, hard work, service and no-excuses," she said.
As a military leader, she stressed the importance of team effort.
"Cultivating empathy, by really learning about others, will strengthen you as leaders," said West. "As individuals, our own backgrounds, personal experiences, influences from others all have a part in shaping us into the leaders that we become. Be resilient, but also rely on others that are motivating and trying to achieve the same goal. It is a team effort."
She said role-models and diversity were important as well.
"Leadership is about influencing people by providing purpose, direction, motivation, and all about accomplishing missions. The remarkable thing about that definition is that it can be applied broadly, to find leaders, mentors and good role-models," said West. Studies show the more diverse the group is, the more intelligent the group because diversity provides more perspectives, she said. The more perspectives you have, the greater variety of solution sets we generate. It is important for leaders to reflect this diversity.
During her Army career, West was challenged by the lack of female role-models. In retrospect, this was an opportunity, she said, and she says the Army has embraced diversity in general.
"As the Army continues to evolve, it is moving towards managing talents based upon skills, knowledge, and attributes of the person, rather than focusing on genders, ethnicity, or any other types of external identifiers," added West. The emphasis on the competency, the character, expectations and potential of the person will shape leadership.
The audience at the Chapel, made up of different in backgrounds, branches, sexuality and ranks, was inspired by her words.
"She is a woman and, so far, she's been the prime example for all young women of diverse backgrounds," said 1st Lt. Garcia Marissa, clinical staff officer in education at the 121st Combat Support Hospital. She said she would remember her words for the rest of her life.
West concluded people can turn challenges into opportunities, depending on how people think.
"The one thing that you can always control is your attitude. How you frame the situation, how you respond to it might be the only thing that you can control. You might consider adversity as an opportunity. Anything you encounter is an opportunity, and there is no such thing as adversities anymore."
West thanked the audience for being role-models, leaders, mentors. "Thank you for all you do every day," she said.
Lt. Gen. Nadja Y. West (born 1961) is the 44th Surgeon General of the U.S. Army and Commanding General of U.S. Army Medical Command (MEDCOM). She is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Engineering in 1982, and she earned a Doctorate of Medicine Degree from George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington in 1988. DC. She was promoted Feb. 9, 2016, to Lieutenant General. Her awards and decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit with three Oak Leaf Clusters, and others.
Lt. Gen. Nadja Y. West, who is the 44th Surgeon General of the U.S. Army and Commanding General of U.S. Army Medical Command (MEDCOM), delivers a speech on leadership, Sept. 21, at South Post Chapel. (U.S. Army photo by Pvt. Kim, Hee-cheol)